The Japan Times, December 10, 1996
African archaeologist Mary Leakey dies at 83
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) Mary Leakey, an archaeologist who with her late husband brought the world closer to understanding the origins of humanity, died Monday. She was 83.
The death was announced in a statement by her son, Richard Leakey, himself a renowned paleontologist. No cause of death was announced, but the statement said she died peacefully.
Leakey and her late husband, Louis, astounded the world with their fossil discoveries in Tanzania and Kenya that proved humanity was far older than had previously been believed. Her work indicated that human evolution began in East Africa about 3.5 million years ago.
At the time of her death, Leakey had been working to put her papers in order with the help of a friend.
Mary Nichol, a talented archaeologist and artist born in England, met Louis Leakey in London in 1933 when she was 20. She met up again with Leakey in Tanzania in 1935. They were married in 1936 and spent the next 30 years working together in Tanzania and Kenya, unearthing fossils that put the origins of humanity squarely in Africa.
Working alongside her husband in 1947 in Kenya, Leakey discovered the skull of Proconsul africanus, an apelike ancestor of both apes and early humans who lived about 25 million years ago.
In 1959 at Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania, she discovered a skull of an early hominid Louis dubbed Zinjanthropus.
In 1978, working without Louis at Laetoli, a site south of Olduvai Gorge, Mary Leakey made what she considered to be her most important discovery: footprints made in volcanic ash by early hominids who lived 3.5 million years, ago. The footprints proved that early humans had walked upright much earlier than previously believed.
"I think it's the most important find in view of human evolution," Leakey said during an interview at her home outside Nairobi in September. "I was really looking for tools, but we never found. any at the site."
In August; Leakey traveled to Laetoli for a final glimpse of the footprints before they were covered over with high-tech materials to protect them from the elements.